Saturday, May 08, 2010

Top Five Weddings

I am going to a big wedding party this weekend, which might well have a chance of making it into a list like this one, but..... well, I wouldn't want to risk offending my hosts if it should only end up in the lower reaches of the 'Top 10' (I have been to some very good wedding parties in my time!), so I thought I'd do this list before I go.

Here, then, are the......

Top Five Wedding Parties I have been to

5) The 'Dice Life' wedding

When my best buddy from college, Ned, got married to a lady doctor down in Bristol, I was a quasi-usher for the day (the only occasion on which anyone has supposed that I could be entrusted with any such responsibility). However, the entire scope of my duties was chaperoning my disreputable Scots drinking companion The Bookseller and trying to ensure that he did not misbehave himself too egregiously. We travelled down and back from Oxford together on the train, and crashed overnight at the pad of a friend of The Bookseller's girlfriend - so, for us, it was a full 48 hours of drunken excess (culminating in spending most of the journey back - on a high-speed train - taking it in turns to see how long we could endure sticking our heads out of the window in the middle of a rain storm; that was extremely exhilarating, but also probably stupidly dangerous; after a while, fearing we might be blinded by some tiny speck of dust or dirt or leaf-mould falling from a trackside tree, we switched to seeing how long we could bear to hold our hands out in the rain - and I can tell you as a result of this experience that, at 120mph, even raindrops really f***ing hurt!). And - for some reason I have now forgotten - I decided to determine every major course of action that weekend by reference to rolling a die, to live the 'Dice Life'. I took along my favourite green die, and rolled it to determine..... whether I should drink, how heavily I should drink, what I should drink (the die instructed me to drink moderately heavily, but only cider.... unless other people had been persuaded to buy a drink for me, in which case spirits were OK; I was highly sceptical of this regimen at first, but it worked out very well; I hadn't drunk much cider in years, so was less on my guard against its intoxicating effects than I would have been with wine or beer). I also consulted it as to which of the bride's single friends I should try to chat up. At this point I committed one of the Great Sins Against The Dice by disregarding the injunction to go after the very tall and attractive but intimidatingly froideureuse (not a word, but should be!) brunette on my right, and instead concentrating my efforts on the bubbly little redhead to my left (who appeared to fancy me; but that's no excuse; I ignored the die, and I was made to suffer for it). Perhaps I had better draw a veil over how the latter part of the evening panned out. I don't remember very much of it, to be honest. The next day's recovery drinking became extremely protracted too, because we settled into a divey little pub with a pool table opposite Temple Meads station at opening time and, knowing that there was a train home every hour, kept asking the die whether we should stay for one more hour - and ended up staying for five. And then drank some more on the train, of course. And then yet more again when we got back to Oxford. That might very possibly be my most alcoholic wedding weekend of all. A thoroughly good wedding all around, though: lots of old friends there, gorgeous weather, and the bizarre, fortuitous highlight (Ned has always been notorious for his uncanny good luck) of a major hot-air balloon convention passing overhead in the middle of the afternoon. And I did enjoy a brief fling with the redhead afterwards.

4) The neverending pre-party wedding

Did I say that was the most alcoholic wedding weekend I've ever enjoyed? No, I lied. The British Cowboy's wedding party in Philly was in a whole other class. There was an open bar throughout the reception.... and then, apparently, some of us ended up partying further on vodka and tequila with some of the bridesmaids back at the hotel.... until nearly dawn the next morning. (Checking out at around 10 or 11, I collapsed for a while on a sofa in the lobby and was mystified to discover it was severely damp. The wrily amused receptionist had to remind me that this was where I'd been sitting for some time - and, I think, perhaps canoodling; why do I always forget the good bits? - with a girl who had but recently been thrown into the swimming pool.) And then his in-laws - good, solid, working-class Polish-Irish folk that they were - threw a recovery brunch for us round at their home, with further prodigious quantities of beer and wine. The real problem, though, was that The Cowboy is notoriously hangover-prone (and insufferably grumpy when in the throes of one), and so his bride had very sensibly decreed that he should have his stag party a good two or three days clear of the wedding. And, since most of his buddies were coming over from England (I was coming from Toronto, on the final leg of a round-the-world backpacking jaunt), they came a full week early - and partied every single night. Well, not just during the night. We were out in the sticks rather, a small town called Runnemede, NJ, with absolutely bugger-all to do; but it did have a rather decent diner, and a very fine dive bar called Freddie's. The English-boys-on-a-bender settled into a daily routine of sleeping in till 10 or 11am, hitting the diner for a late breakfast/early lunch, and then camping out in Freddie's for the next 12 hours or more. On the night before the wedding, I fell in with an interesting crowd of locals there (with one of whom I most unexpectedly discovered a shared interest in the poetry of W.B. Yeats) and went back to one of their houses to drink some more. I very nearly missed the wedding completely. (I crashed out in an armchair at the house while listening to Pink Floyd at around 4am. At about 9.30am I awoke, and had to beg one of the other partiers to give me a lift back to the hotel, though he was half-asleep and probably in no legal condition to drive. I barely had time for a shower and change of clothes before we hit the church. I rather fear I did omit to shave. Sorry, Cowboy - at least I was there. Under the circumstances, showing up at all demonstrated considerable dedication to you.)

3) The blackout wedding

Not the best all-around wedding, this, because the groom was not an especially close friend, and the church they were using was so small that 80% of the guests were excluded from the service and invited only to the reception (a party without the ritual beforehand always seems a bit flat, don't you think?). However, the wedding party itself turned out to be - quite serendipitously - just about the cosiest, strangest, most fun event of its kind I've been to. You see, the reception was in a remote little farmhouse hotel in the Lancashire countryside, and just as the meal was drawing to a close and we were approaching the dreaded moment when a DJ would start to try to get people dancing..... there was a sudden powercut. The staff hastily set out candles everywhere, which created a charmingly cosy, intimate atmosphere in the old oak-beamed building. And we all crammed into the tiny bar to see how soon power might be restored (well, some people left, but most stayed). Circumstances further combined to promote especially good drinking, since all the hotel's beer taps were electrically powered and thus inoperative. This might have seemed like bad news, but, of course, it meant that we had to drink exclusively wines or spirits instead - which was very good news, especially as the bar had a particularly fine selection of single malt whiskies, and the manager was offering us a generous discount on them to apologise for the "unfortunate interruption" of the festivities. Even the ladies present were mostly persuaded to start sampling the single malts, and several of them got flirtatiously squiffy as a result. The lights didn't come back on until mid-evening, by which time there was no more thought of dancing! (Other highlights of that weekend were sharing the road trip there and back with my slightly strait-laced but very amusing Indian doctor friend, The Egregious Dr P; also, unexpectedly finding another old reprobate from my college days [and occasional commenter on here], Mr A, among the guests [I think one of his former girlfriends had been a schoolfriend of the bride, or something - very tenuous!], who did one of his trademark party pieces by dividing the guests into three or four groups at the end of dinner and conducting them in a performance of the Dr Who theme [you know the thing: one group does the bass line, one does the whoosh-whoosh noises, and so on]. And finally..... some locals directed us to another very fine country pub nearby, which - again, rather improbably - had a very good Chinese restaurant annexed to it; when we got there, the Egregious Dr P, unused to drinking whisky in the afternoon, became suddenly rather tired and emotional, and laid his head down in the middle of a plate of sweet-and-sour prawns to have a little snooze - a moment of weakness I have sworn never to let him forget.)

2) The mellow China wedding

This was probably the least alcoholic wedding I have been to (although fairly substantial amounts of Yanjing pijiu were consumed, and the [Chinese] groom - after the ritual of trying to individually toast all of his guests at dinner - threw up copiously in a corner of the restaurant patio and had to be taken home early in a taxi: not the most romantic start to married life, but fairly standard in China, I fear...), but it was also probably the pleasantest, because of the great mix of people along, and the laidback, improvisatory nature of the celebration. A Canadian friend was marrying a dashing young Chinese artist. Unfortunately, they'd planned their big day for the beginning of May in 2003 - just as the news of the SARS outbreak had broken, and the city of Beijing had been locked down. Thus, their intention of having a traditional Chinese wedding party in the groom's home town was thwarted: all travel out of the city was suddenly banned. However, most of their friends were living in Beijing, and most of the bride's family had already flown in from Canada, so they decided to forge ahead and have a party here. We gathered in Fragrant Hills park and had an exchange of rings and vows followed by a huge picnic lunch half-way up the mountain. After a leisurely afternoon hanging out in the blissful early summer sunshine and making new friends, we then cabbed back to town for a wedding banquet at Han Cang, a favourite Hakka restaurant overlooking Qianhai lake. But for the groom's eventual indisposition, it was just about the perfect day. (It was also probably one of the best documented weddings ever, since most of the couple's artist friends were very serious photographers and they all brought their cameras along.)

And in the top spot, the most amazing, most memorable wedding party I've ever been to (thus far)....

1) The 'Four Weddings & A Funeral' wedding

Another old university drinking buddy, Matt, had got engaged to a lass from his native Cornwall. I'd never met her, didn't know much about her, except that she was said to be "an heiress" - although, I thought, in a fairly modest way, her dad a gentleman farmer. It turned out he owned a substantial chunk of the county and lived in a marvellous Georgian house, with the wedding party thrown in an enormous marquee on the lawn - exactly like one of those uber-swanky affairs in the Hugh Grant film. Until I'd arrived, I'd had no inkling that it was going to be such a grand affair. It was the most generously catered wedding I've experienced, with a live band and limitless amounts of beer, wine, and champagne. It was also a fabulous reunion: all the 'old crowd' from my college days were there, some of whom I'd been out of touch with for a few years (including one of my great unrequited crushes, who flirted with me very graciously on this night, but continued to be unrequited).

However, it was the attendant circumstances more than the wedding itself that made the weekend so special. The wedding was held on a Saturday, July 15th. Another old university friend, E, was making herself heaps of money as a currency trader for Goldman Sachs. She was at that time specialising in the French market, and the French, of course, were taking Friday off for Bastille Day. So, although she was not herself invited to the wedding, she offered to take me down to Cornwall.... in a plane. Yep, she'd recently obtained her Private Pilot's Licence and was now working on some additional qualification for long-distance flying or flying on instruments only or somesuch, and thought that a trip down to the far end of the country would be just what she needed. How could I refuse? (Well, there were moments when I almost wished I had. She wasn't yet very experienced, and didn't have the confidence to fly on instruments only; so, when we ran into a low cloudbase, she had to head out to sea and fly below the level of the cliffs to maintain visibility.) Ah yes, Froog arrived in style at that one. Well, not quite the style I might have hoped for; E couldn't land on the old man's driveway as I'd fantasised, but had to put down in an airport some miles away and leave me at the mercy of a rudimentary rural bus service. But still, it put me one-up on everyone else, all those poor souls who'd had to come by train or car. I got a ride back on Sunday with Ned in his Caterham sports car. In any other circumstances, that would have been an amazingly exhilarating experience; but after flirting with death in a single-engined plane 48 hours before, it seemed a trifle humdrum; and I was so hungover, I think I actually slept for much of the journey.

I shared a room in a country guesthouse with my two best friends from college, Ned and The Bookseller. There was some kind of silliness with a Gideon Bible in the room, which kept us up sniggering uncontrollably until the early hours of the morning before the wedding (I can't remember the details now: just one of those fits of viral giggles - something to do, I think, with The Bookseller's obsessive but invariably fumbling attempts to memorise the 'Ezekiel, 25:17' speech from Pulp Fiction). There was a fine country pub adjacent to the church, which we were reluctant to leave. And then, when we got back to the guesthouse, we found that the light of a dazzling full moon was sufficient for us to play a wee-small-hours game of croquet on the surprisingly good lawn adjacent (I indulged Ned, who had been a champion player at college; I was fond of the game, but couldn't begin to compete with him). The Bookseller, supposedly watching us, wandered off drunkenly and fell into a ditch. Alarmed by his pitiful yelp, we halted play and went to his rescue - finding him completely suspended on a single-strand barbed wire fence in the bottom of the ditch, his arms and legs flailing feebly in mid-air. When we lifted him down, we were relieved but amazed to discover that both he and his suit were completely unscathed: the lone barb he'd come into contact with had miraculously slotted itself through one of his buttonholes and made no tear (there is some strange Providence, it seems, that protects the self-destructive drunkard). Perhaps you had to be there - but I still crack up with laughter when I recall that.

There were a few other weddings that were 'bubbling under': a wedding in Richmond, VA, where JimBob and The Policewoman and I discovered a fantastic little diner that served great cocktails (the First Street Diner, I think it was called.... or Third Street?) and fell so in love with the place that we very nearly skipped the wedding itself (that was like a scaled-down version of The British Cowboy's wedding: the Brit contingent arriving a few days ahead of the the big day and partying around the clock!); a wedding in mid-town Manhattan, where we stayed at the Yale Club, made a pilgrimage to the Algonquin Hotel (home to Dorothy Parker's famous 'Vicious Circle'), and found a rather wonderful Jamaican restaurant (no longer there, alas) around the corner from the White Horse Tavern which served the best goddamn homemade ginger beer I have ever tasted; there was the wedding at the Chelsea Arts Club where I had to immobilise The Bookseller with a smart punch to the solar plexus (he had briefly gone out with the bride a year or two before, and was about to do something extremely embarrassing), and later had a rather lovely romantic encounter with a young girl who turned out to be barely half my age (yes, I blush for shame; but it was nice); and then, of course, there was the Beijing bar owner's wedding a few years ago, which probably counts as the most intensively alcoholic celebration I have attended - it only lasted 3 or 4 hours, but man, did we get wrecked!

Hmm, I might have to do a follow-up post one day, a Top Five Second Best Weddings list....


The British Cowboy said...

The only reason I haven't commented is that for historical reasons I don't feel commenting on my wedding would be in good taste. :-)

Froog said...

Fondly - if fragmentarily - remembered by the rest of us, Cowboy.

I fear the season of weddings in my life is past now, with even Jim-Bob and The Bookseller (now rebranded as The Bookbinder, although I fear it would be too confusing to my readers to start referring to him as such on here) now happily spliced. Unless you think you might go around again? Any romantic news of note?

The British Cowboy said...

I have a few weddings to attend still - going back to college created a whole new set of single people I know. I have one this summer in fact in sunny Iowa.

My romantic life is... complicated. Certainly too complicated to mention in a blog posting. Next time you are over we can discuss over beverages.